Each Tuesday throughout the season, former UCLA as well as U.S. Under-16 National Team midfielder Jessica Stamp, who is a Houston, Texas, native and the current color analyst on Texas Soccer Web Broadcasts, will give you her perspective on the team's performance over the last week.
The Longhorns can find the back of the net and find a way to win at home. This past weekendıs defeats of both Baylor and No. 13 Texas A&M further illustrate how the team increases its intensity when playing in Austin. Texas has won 17 of its past 18 home games an astonishing record considering the team just evened their overall mark on the year at 5-5-1 with the win over the Aggies on Sunday. The only team handing Texas a defeat at Mike A. Myers this season was No. 3 Portland, which merely edged the Horns by a score of 2-1.
The Longhorns turned on the aggression offensively this past weekend, scoring the most goals in a single game this season against Baylor on Friday as three players netted their first goals on the year. The team looked hungry to score as they took more shots from all around and inside the box, crashed the goal on crosses and corners, and followed the shots instead of watching the ball. This relentless approach to putting the ball on frame created some spectacular goals as well as pressured defenses into making mistakes. Caitlin Kennedy squeezed a corner past an unsuspecting Baylor defense that had already seen nine sent into the box in the first half. Kennedy also capitalized on a mistake by A&M goalkeeper Kati Jo Spisak by ripping a shot on goal instead of predictably centering a pass inside the six yard box. The constant offensive pressure in both games created these kinds of goals as well as the penalty kick that put Texas on top of A&M Sunday. The Longhorns had numerous periods where they would push toward the goal and bombard the opposing defense with shot after shot. The team also had moments of quality possession, stringing seven or eight passes together, hitting forwards and changing fields. The combination play always ended with a chance on goal. However, this sharp play and sense of urgency appeared sporadically as momentum shifted back and forth. The team simply needs to focus on maintaining this high competitive level for the duration of each half.
The defensive line led by example as the four backs stayed focused without substitution in either match. The backfield won nearly every header off service sent in long from the oppositionıs defense or those sent into the box off corners, throw-ins and free kicks. The one miscue on a throw-in led to a Melissa Garey goal from Texas A&M midway through the second half on Sunday. The only other visible threats were forwards sneaking through the seams on crosses and gaining a step on their defender. Texas avoids these opportunities when putting high pressure on the front line, double-teaming, and when they stand touch-tight in the box. Only when the backs get caught ball watching are players able to run loose in between and behind the line. However, the communication from freshman Dianna Pfenninger has helped close some of these gaps. Pfenninger had a truly remarkable weekend by playing with confidence and consistency. The reliability of the defense again allowed Jill Gilbeau, Julie Gailey and even Moore to come out of the back on the dribble. While Mooreıs incredible service occasionally found the holes in front of a forwardıs foot, it was the runs out of the back that created the most havoc by disorganizing the oppositionıs defensive formation. The opponent either stepped to defend the streaking Texas player and left another wide open or continued to track the offensive line, leaving space for an open shot on goal.
THE COMING WEEK
The past weekend has breathed new life into the Longhorns who now know that they can beat any team in the Big 12. The excitement over beating Texas A&M for only the second time will hopefully motivate the team to continue to pressure every opponent. Texas cannot afford to save that intensity for rivals or just home games. The team must find a way to arrive at every game with an eagerness to score and to maintain a dominant presence over 90 minutes of play. This coming weekend brings a strong Colorado team, which handed Oklahoma State their first loss of the year and barely fell to Oklahoma, who is currently undefeated in conference play, in double overtime this past weekend. The Longhorns will have to bring the level back up in order to secure two important victories against the Buffaloes and Texas Tech on Sunday.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK:
Senior defender Julie Gailey sprinted to the goal line and kicked a bounding ball away from the net late in the second half against Texas A&M, keeping the Longhorns on top and securing the 2-1 win.
STAMP'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
Both freshman defender Kasey Moore and freshman goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger had two outstanding performances worthy of recognition. Moore anchored the Texas back line with consistent toughness, winning every header and battle in the box. She also greatly contributed to the offense, leading the team in shots (4) against A&M and confidently putting away a penalty kick that changed the momentum of the second half against the Aggies. Pfenninger, meanwhile, stopped five attempts on goal from the conference goal leader, Melissa Garey of A&M, while tallying a total of nine saves over the two weekend matches.